By U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Volunteer Kyle Richardson (K2)
This week at Friends of Midway Atoll we are taking a look at a very special individual. Helen Fairlamb has become an integral part of our mission at Kuaihelani (Midway Atoll), and it will soon be obvious why.
Helen originally hails from the Lake District in the United Kingdom, but lately calls Queenstown, Aotearoa (New Zealand) home. In N.Z., Helen has worked as a wildlife biologist with the Department of Conservation (Orange-fronted parakeet Recovery Team), an aviculturist, and more recently as a Biodiversity Officer in Queenstown.
Helen has also been a part of the successful mouse and rat eradication effort on Lord Howe Island (Australia), and was due to support the Gough Island Recovery Project as an aviculturist in 2020. All of this experience has proved invaluable to Kuaihelani.
In 2022, Helen was approached by the Superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Jared Underwood, and asked to lend her avicultural expertise to the upcoming Seabird Protection Project (SPP). Having heard about the seabirds of Midway Atoll, and having an interest in non-target species (NTS) mitigation during island restoration projects, Helen jumped at the opportunity. Once the project was greenlit, she was on her way.
Once on Kuaihelani, Helen immediately joined the team. With a large number of critically endangered koloa pōhaka (Laysan ducks) in need of care, Helen was thrust into the non-target species mitigation phase of the SPP that was in full swing. Her skills and experience complemented the existing teams operating the Eastern Island aviaries and the avian care facility on Sand Island. It soon became clear we would need Helen around longer than originally anticipated. Fortunately for Kuaihelani, Helen was experiencing an epiphany of her own.
Having been most recently employed in an indoor, “desk job” position, Helen was missing the field work she had long loved. Once thrust into the critical care necessary for Midway’s native wildlife, Helen was relieved to rediscover her passion for field work and island conservation. With one of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s staff members scheduled for vacation, Helen approached leadership to volunteer for a longer stay.
Of course, this meant an adjustment and sacrifice on Helen’s part, as she was also needed back in her position in New Zealand. Having determined the office life was not for her, Helen made the difficult decision to resign from her position as Queenstown Biodiversity Officer, and put her energy back into her passion, wildlife conservation.
She has since been devoted to caring for koloa pōhaka (koloa means Hawaiian duck and pōhaka refers to the perceived stare they give, making the duck appear alert), shorebirds, and passerines. As Helen Fairlamb contemplates the paths her new journey will take her down, we at Kuaihelani are once again reminded that our love for life and compassion for all our living friends can truly make a difference in the world.
Mahalo, Helen, and e mālama pono!